Great Choruses and Overtures from Opera
This is a concert I’ve wanted to do for at least 30 years.
Opera is a genre that is famously not for everybody’s taste (although I fervently believe it could be, given the right opera and a little preparation). For some, a particularly beautiful aria, usually sung by a soprano or tenor, will pierce their soul and make them want to hear more, more, more! Or it could be the spectacular vocal fireworks of Violetta’s Sempre libera, the Queen of the Night’s “Vengeance” aria, or the famous nine high C’s sung by the tenor in The Daughter of the Regiment that starts the adrenalin flowing. I followed a slightly different, but more typical path.
I heard the Prelude to Act III of Tannhäuser, and liked it so much that I bought an LP of “Great Opera Overtures”. I soon fell in love with the Prelude to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, the overture to Verdi’s La forza del destino, Weber’s Oberon, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and many more. Then I found an LP of “Great Opera Choruses”, and wore it out listening to choruses from Bizet’s Carmen, Wagner’s Lohengrin, Verdi’s Aïda, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, etc. The sonic excitement of the full orchestra together with massed voices was electrifying! I didn’t care what they were singing about or what language they were singing in; I just basked in the glorious sound.
That’s exactly what I hope for you tonight. We’ll open with some of my favorite opera overtures, and after intermission the Mendelssohn Chorale joins us to sing a selection of great choruses. I often encourage people who are going to see an opera performance to learn as much as they can about the story, the characters, and the historical background. Not tonight! Opera choruses (the best ones, anyway) are meant to be good sonic fun, exciting a “wow” reaction from the audience. A composer adds a chorus to an opera for festive effect, to provide a pleasing diversion from the opera’s plot, or for a splendid visual spectacle. If the story calls for a crowd of people, the composer and librettist bring them out of anonymity by having them sing about why they are there, how they are feeling, or what they are about to do.
An opera chorus sometimes functions like the chorus in Greek tragedies, commenting on action and expressing collective thought. Often the chorus sets the scene for action that is about to take place. In any case, the music of an opera chorus is meant to be vivid and memorable, and that’s why we’re here tonight. My goal is that when you leave the theater tonight you are awash in a sea of your fellow concertgoers whistling, humming, and singing their favorite tunes from the evening.